Last week I had the privilege of attending a conversation between Lucy Mangan and Katherine Rundell at Mostly Books, Abingdon. Both are authors, bookworms and passionate about children’s literature – so it was a stimulating and inspiring evening.
Mangan has recently published Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading, and Rundell Why You Should Read Children’s Books, Even Though You Are Old and Wise. Both are excellent and I highly recommend them. The latter is beautifully written and Rundell’s knowledge of her subject pervades the pages of this short essay. Here is a little taster:
Fairytales were never just for children. They are determinedly, pugnaciously, for everyone – old and young, men and women, of every nation. Marina Warner argues that fairytales are the closest thing we have to a cultural Esperanto: whether German, Persian, American, we tell the same fairytales, because stories have migrated across borders as freely as birds.
— Katherine Rundell, p.23
The conversation on children’s literature emphasised a few valuable points I thought worth sharing.
1. The importance of reading for pleasure
In an age where children are being assessed at every level and books are allocated age brackets or reading stages, parents, teachers and children need to be reminded of the importance of reading for pleasure. We need to move away from a utilitarian approach to education that puts attainment before enjoyment, and worry less about our children reaching certain marker points. Instead teachers and parents need to keep reading aloud to the next generation, and working hard at putting good books into their hands. We obviously want children to know how to read, but surely so that it can be enjoyed. Stories bring different ways of imagining the world. The enjoyment and delight of being taken to a faraway land needs to be recaptured and passed down. It’s treasure we are handing to them.
2. Reading prepares you for life
However reading is not only for pure enjoyment’s sake, which could sound a little indulgent. Books contain real power – both for good and bad. Children’s books arm children for the way ahead with powerful messages. In Rundell’s latest book The Good Thieves, for example, the reader is clearly presented with the idea that it is worth anything to fight for the people you love. So not a classic moralistic tale but in the reality of daily life where decisions to do good or bad are not always straightforward, Rundell gives her readers a way forward. Mangan shared how she remembers reading Jill Tomlinson’s The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark and realised while reading about Plop that some people must be scared of the dark. It was a new concept to her that taught her about the world she was in. In this way, books can be a safe space in which children can explore the world around them and fuel their imaginations to make it a better place as they grow up.
It was a great evening. And at only 31 years old, Rundell is flying. Let’s hope that she continues to write beautiful literature for years to come.